BANN: As You Like It

While BANN is decidedly a jazz group, it’s also one that flirts with fusion and occasionally hints at rock. Tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake, bassist Jay Anderson, guitarist Oz Noy and drummer Adam Nussbaum-“BANN” combines their surname initials-know their way around all kinds of music, interweaving transformations of tunes by Crosby, Stills & Nash, Thelonious Monk and Joe Henderson with originals like the funky, group-composed title track; Noy’s bluesy, dreamy “Minor Shuffle” (shades of Santo & Johnny’s “Sleep Walk” here); and Anderson’s sultry “At Sundown.”

There’s nothing frenetic about As You Like; rather, there is urgency and authority. Check Blake on “At Sundown,” as he builds an increasingly complex, crying excursion over Noy’s minimalist chording. Then Noy steps in, his sound simultaneously widescreen and tentative (the Israeli-born guitarist is the voicing master of this group), ratcheting up the tension that informs the tune. Noy loads the notes here, his solo rocking hard. Nevertheless, “Sundown” never deteriorates into showboating; BANN knows when to apply pressure and when to lay back.

At first I had an issue with including “Guinnevere,” BANN’s reading of David Crosby’s lovely, slightly watery tune from the first Crosby, Stills & Nash album. But Blake’s solo is simply beautiful, and Noy’s acoustic counterpoint is finely wrought. And planting it between a witty update of Monk’s “Played Twice” and Anderson’s “Will Call,” by far the most aggressive track, is inspired

Part of the reason this debut album is commanding is its sequencing. Case in point: The album is bookended by a wild reimagining of “All the Things You Are” (a chestnut hard to refresh) and Henderson’s “Isotope,” a gnarly, exciting tune from 1985 that shows how closely related jazz was to fusion in those heady, cross-fertilizing days. In BANN, they still are, and the relationship is a healthy one.